Witness blames ex-Peterson lawyer for conviction

MICHAEL TARM
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From left, retired Judge Daniel Locallo, walks with defense lawyers for Drew Peterson, Steve Greenberg, Joe Lopez, and Lisa Lopez, as they leave the Will County Courthouse Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, in Joliet, Ill., for lunch during the second day of a hearing in the former suburban Chicago police officer's request for a new trial. During the hearing Locallo spoke as the defense sought to bolster arguments that Peterson deserved a retrial on charges he murdered his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Peterson's attorneys contend his former lead trial attorney, Joel Brodsky, botched his case. Locallo told the judge that Brodsky made a major mistake by calling one witness whose testimony badly backfired on the defense. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — A decision by Drew Peterson's then-lead attorney to call one particular witness at the former police officer's murder trial may have led to Peterson's conviction, a retired judge testified Wednesday at a hearing to decide if Peterson should get a new trial in the death of his third wife.

The former judge, who is not otherwise connected to the case, took the stand as Peterson's current legal team sought to persuade a Will County judge to give Peterson a new trial. Peterson's current attorneys contend his former attorney, Joel Brodsky, badly botched his 2012 trial.

Peterson is also a suspect in the 2007 disappearance of this fourth wife, 23-year-old Stacy Peterson, but has never been charged in that case.

Wednesday's hearing focused on a decision that backfired on the defense at trial: to call divorce lawyer Harry Smith as a witness. Smith told jurors that before Stacy Peterson vanished, she had asked him if she could she squeeze more money out of her husband in divorce proceedings if she threatened to tell police that he murdered Savio three years earlier.

With Smith's testimony, Daniel Locallo testified Wednesday, jurors for the first time heard someone say Peterson admitted to killing Savio.

"Up until that point, there had not been any direct evidence in respect to Mr. Peterson causing the demise of Ms. Savio," the retired judge testified.

If Judge Edward Burmila rejects the motion for a new trial, he has said he would proceed quickly to sentencing the 59-year-old Peterson for his September conviction for killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio. He faces a maximum 60-year prison term.

In calling Smith, Brodsky hoped Smith's testimony that Stacy Peterson allegedly sought to extort her husband would dent the credibility of statements she made to others that Drew Peterson threatened to kill her. Instead, Smith kept stressing how Stacy Peterson seemed to sincerely believe her husband had killed Savio — and that her husband even told her directly that he killed Savio.

The state's lead prosecutor in the case, James Glasgow, referred to Smith's testimony at the time as "a gift from God." And after the trial, some jurors said Smith's testimony persuaded them to convict Peterson.

Peterson's current attorneys say the decision was all Brodsky's, though he said the entire defense team, including several lawyers still representing Peterson, agreed.

Locallo said he went through court records and determined it was Brodsky who made the decision, calling him "the captain of the (defense) ship" at trial.

"He is the one delivering, in Mr. Glasgow's words, 'a gift from God,'" Locallo said.

Under cross-examination, though, Locallo conceded that none of Brodsky's fellow trial attorneys expressed their objections to the judge himself about opposing the decision to call Smith.

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